Partners in recovery: social support and accountability in a consumer-run mental health center

Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Jan;63(1):61-5. doi: 10.1176/


Objective: Consumer-run mental health programs that include advocacy, peer counseling, and mentoring are somewhat commonplace in community mental health services, yet fully peer-operated mental health centers remain novel in the public mental health landscape. This ethnographic study of a consumer-run mental health center had two major aims: to learn what is distinctive about consumer-run services-for example, how they might strengthen personal capacity for social integration-and to explore how the development of these capacities might promote recovery.

Methods: Data collection for this modified ethnographic study consisted of ten months of participant observation, coupled with semistructured interviews (N=25), a focus group (N=22), and dramatic skits (N=17), to identify and define the distinctive features of the program, both structurally and from the point of view of participants. Inquiry was framed theoretically by the capabilities approach.

Results: Participants in this consumer-run mental health program experienced themselves as accountable for and to their peers in what amounts to a shared project of recovery.

Conclusions: As part of a capacity-building approach in consumer-run services, programs should aim to not only provide social support for participants but also foster a culture in which service users are accountable for their peers. Such reciprocity may help to strengthen socialization skills, which could better prepare consumers for participation in the community at large.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Capacity Building*
  • Community Mental Health Centers / organization & administration*
  • Community Participation*
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Mentors
  • New York City
  • Organizational Culture
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self-Help Groups / organization & administration
  • Social Support*